by Rudy Ravindra
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Mindful of her ticking biological clock, she resumed her search for a suitable man. After many more duds, she came across Gopal. In his fifties, also from Bangalore. He was divorced with no kids. He taught chemistry and biology at a community college in Raleigh, North Carolina. They exchanged pictures and she was thrilled with his good looks and was pleased to learn that he found her drop-dead gorgeous. Their first phone call lasted the whole evening and most of the night.
Thanks to daily dialogs, they learned about their schools and colleges in Bangalore, parents, siblings, bank balances, alarm clock settings, breakfast cereals, attire, typical work day, and favorite music, movies and books. At long last, she found her soulmate and couldn’t wait to meet him.
Although he was ready to give her the home court advantage, she was curious about his lifestyle and drove to Raleigh. The moment she pulled in, Gopal walked out and hugged her. He ushered her into a spacious, sunny living room with floor to ceiling windows, and gave her a bouquet of red roses.
After a brief tour of his modest three-bedroom house, he led her to the backyard, his pride and joy.
“Wow! What a colorful garden! Yellow and pink lilies, oh my god, so many different roses, and those purple flowers, are they clematis?”
A hummingbird stuck its beak into a feeder and flew off as rapidly as it landed.
“This is the first time I’ve seen a hummingbird this spring. It looks like it came to greet the lovely lady!” Gopal winked.
Rani’s face lit up with full-throated laughter, and she playfully punched him. He put his arms around her and placed his lips gently onto her moist lips. She parted her lips as if inviting him into her domain.
Rani woke up at first light. Gopal was breathing evenly, his mouth slightly open, and his hand on her stomach. She was parched. She got out of bed very quietly and drank a glass of water.
She walked into the deck overlooking the backyard and let the cool spring breeze caress her. With a blissful smile, she stretched her arms languorously and ran her tongue over her sore lips.
Gopals’ kisses heralded a new era of passion and pleasure. His strong hands dallied delicately around her erogenous zones. He said, “Your feet are sexy.” And took each of her manicured toes into his magical fingers and massaged them. It was a first and wildly erotic and her subterranean sensuality surfaced. It was an exhilarating experience to be with a strong and sensuous, passionate and playful, and most importantly, a caring and considerate man.
The whole world appeared more colorful, everything looked so much brighter, and her outlook on life changed dramatically. She had a better appreciation of the green leaves, the beautiful roses, the chirping birds, and everything else around her. She was energized, wanted to do things, wanted to babble, wanted to announce to the whole wide world that sex was fun, sex was euphoric, and sex was thrilling. It was as if she had discovered sex anew.
* * *
Rani and Gopal decided to put behind the broken hearts and broken dreams of their previous lives, and come together with the fervent hope that it would be delightful and long-lasting this time around. Since it would be difficult for Gopal to find a teaching position with tenure in Baltimore, she moved to Raleigh.
Rani was concerned at Gopal’s unhealthy diet: pizzas, Chinese take-outs, and hamburgers. His kitchen lacked the aromas of typical Indian cuisine: curry leaves, cilantro, cardamom or other signature spices of the subcontinent. The pantry was bare, and nothing but beer, milk and eggs in the refrigerator.
Since Rani was between jobs with plenty of spare time, she cooked elaborate meals: two vegetable curries, rice, and fish or chicken. Even when she joined a group practice in Durham, she was home early enough to cook dinner. But as her practice gradually picked up, the longer hours didn’t allow her to cook proper meals, and again dinner had to be a takeout from one of the nearby restaurants.
Eventually, the culinary conundrum was solved by a four-letter word: S-O-U-P. During weekends Rani tried a few soup recipes. When a certain concoction passed the test, it was passed on to the sous-chef. Gopal chopped a few vegetables: celery, fennel, asparagus, bell peppers, squash, carrots, onions, or potatoes, depending on a particular recipe, and tossed them into a spicy broth of barley or beans. Dinner was scrumptious soup, grilled fish or chicken, and jalapeno cheddar bread.
* * *
Rani and Gopal were excited when the pregnancy test was positive. But, in a few weeks she had a fever accompanied by abdominal pain and cramps. When she started to bleed and saw blood and pieces of tissue, she knew it was a miscarriage. She came out of the bathroom crying, “I lost my baby, I lost my baby.”
Gopal did his best to comfort his inconsolable wife. For the next few weeks she was glum and withdrawn. She went to work, returned home, ate a little, and night after night cried herself to sleep. Gopal helplessly watched her wither away.
* * *
Rani brought in a tray with snacks and coffee. “I see you guys are in a serious discussion, ha?”
“I’m updating Gopal about your great family.” Durga removed her glasses and cleaned them with her dupatta.
Gopal frowned. “They have been living in your apartment rent-free for more than four years. Do you know Bhaskar has tenants in his old apartment? And he is getting good money for it, too.”
“He said he’d pay the rent. But, so far, I haven’t seen any money.” Rani took a bite of the spicy pakodies. “I told them they need not pay rent if Mama stays with them. Actually I purchased the apartment for Mama.”
Durga winced. “I know, I know. I told them that Mama needs to move into the apartment. You know, she is getting more and more feeble, and the maid comes in for a few hours only. I am worried about nighttime when Mama is all alone. This time Mama listened to me; she is ready to move. But Geeta refused, said there’s not enough room in the apartment. I was really frustrated, and hired a girl to spend the nights at the house.”
Gopal said, “Rani, we need to kick them out.”
“No, no, no. We can’t do that.” She looked worried.
“Yes, we can. Gopal and I will take care of that hooligan. Rani, act as if you don’t know a thing. From now on your husband is in charge, okay? And once they are out, I’ll get it painted and rent it out. You know the market rate? Around ten thousand rupees per month.” Durga began to calculate. “One hundred and twenty thousand rupees per year, four hundred and eighty thousand for four years, that’s roughly nine thousand dollars. You lost a lot of money.”
* * *
Gopal smiled broadly. “Mission accomplished! They will be out of your apartment.”
Mama was sitting upright on a couch with her left arm stretched. “It’ll be a long time before they speak to you, Rani. I’m sure they won’t even come around to say hello to you this time.” She laughed.
Durga was checking mama’s blood pressure. “The predatory couple will move into their son’s brand-new, luxury apartment in Yelahanka. Now they found another rent-free place, ha, ha, ha.” Durga fiddled with her stethoscope. “Mama, your blood pressure is a bit high. I need to change your medication. Let me see what samples I have, Okay?” She frowned and put away her paraphernalia.
“Deepak didn’t tell me about his apartment.” Rani was puzzled. “And, you know what, I gave him a loan sometime back. He said it’s for a down payment for his house in Dallas.”
Gopal said, “What! How much?”
Rani had a sheepish look. “I don’t remember, five or ten thousand dollars. That’s before we got married.”
Durga said, “You’ll never see that money. Loan, my foot! It’s more like a donation. Rani, you have to stop feeding these sharks.”
* * *
Mama fell in the backyard and broke her hip. Rani rushed to Bangalore to oversee her medical care.
Durga asked, “Where’s Ramesh?”
“He’s held up, some meeting at Delhi. He asked we postpone the surgery till next week.” Rani grimaced. “Here’s Mama in severe pain, and the surgeon said that the operation should be done as soon as possible. I told Ramesh to come whenever he can. We are going ahead with the surgery. That’s it.
“Anyway, he’s very selfish. Do you remember when Dad had pancreatic cancer? When Mama asked Ramesh to help pay for chemo and radiation, he said he didn’t have the money. He lied. He purchased a brand new car and remodeled his house. Mama had to use her jewelry as collateral to borrow money. And when Dad passed away, Ramesh was wailing and shedding crocodile tears as though he really cared. What a hypocrite. What a brother I have.”
Durga nodded. “Geeta madam and her crooked husband are still sulking, ha?”
“You know how they are: still mad about the apartment farce. I’m sure they will turn up once I leave.”
“No question, no question. Geeta will camp out here every day to butter up Mama. We all know she’s gunning for this house.”
* * *
When Rani missed a period, instead of jumping with joy, this time they were cautiously optimistic. They performed a puja at the Venkateswara temple in Cary, offered gold and silver, flowers and fruits, and prayed fervently for a healthy baby.
For the first two months the pregnancy appeared to be normal. And then the troubles began.
When the ultrasound technician failed to see a gestational sac in Rani’s uterus, the doctor came in and peered carefully at the screen, and shook her head. “Here’s a suspicious ring near your fallopian tube, I’m afraid it’s ectopic. I’m very sorry.” She touched Rani’s shoulder.
Blood work revealed that her hCG levels were high, indicating the presence of an embryo, albeit in the wrong place. If left alone, the embryo would expand and rupture the fallopian tube, bleed internally, and endanger Rani’s life. Surgical removal of the offending growth was not always the best option. In some cases, tiny pieces of the fetal tissue might remain to cause scarring.
Rani’s best option was an injection of methotrexate to terminate the ectopic pregnancy. Although the shot itself was a mere prick in her skin, the aftermath was an excruciating ordeal. On the third day after the injection, she began to cramp and bleed. The bleeding stopped for a few days and resumed after a few more days. For the next few weeks she bled intermittently.
After this tragedy, it was almost certain that a future pregnancy was fraught with grave risks. In any case, she was now forty-three and, given her history, the chances of a normal pregnancy seemed remote.
She was depressed for many months and became angry at the most innocuous things. When a friend or a relative got pregnant, she would be extremely jealous and rave and rant at her misfortune.
* * *
Mama didn’t have the strength to do the physical therapy routines. Consequently, her stiff joints impeded her mobility, leading to lack of appetite, lack of strength to get out of bed, and dreadful bed sores.
Towards the end, Mama simply lay on her bed, refused to eat, refused to talk, and refused to live. With a fleeting smile at her three children, she closed her eyes forever. Ramesh fell on Mama and bawled and carried on.
In spite of the matriarch’s instructions to avoid ostentatious rituals, Ramesh made a big fuss about the last rites and arranged a grand puja on the tenth day and invited all the relatives and friends for a feast with all the fixings.
Rani was dumbfounded that Mama had left the all the property — the house, her jewelry, cash in the bank — to Ramesh and Geeta. Mama’s will was like a slap in the face. Rani recalled the innumerable times when she had rushed to Bangalore for every crisis, be it minor or major, spending money and time.
Rani was saddened that Mama did not see it fit to reward Durga’s invaluable contribution to her well-being and longevity. Not that Durga cared for Mama’s money, but even a small trinket might have been a suitable gesture of gratitude. Was it possible Mama didn’t forgive her marriage to that monster? But, surely, she had redeemed herself by marrying a decent man who happened to belong to the same caste. Or else did Mama think, like her other family members, that she made loads of money and didn’t need more?
To escape the cacophony of relatives and neighbors, Rani slipped out to the beautiful backyard, probably for the last time. When the house had been built several decades ago, it wasn’t worth much. But now, with the booming economy, it stood on prime real estate worth several crores of rupees.
The developers were poised to move in, like vultures swooping down for a feast. Where even a square foot fetched a fortune, there was no way that the pink bougainvillea bushes, yellow marigolds, and jasmine creepers-her favorites in the large colorful garden, which she lovingly nurtured throughout the past many years, would survive the bulldozers.
Rani and her father had shared a passion for gardening. He would bring young saplings, and they planted them in the ground. She had tears at the very thought of the big Jacaranda and Tabebuia impetiginose trees with their purple and yellow blooms being sacrificed at the altar of the almighty rupee.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Rudy Ravindra